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Aurelius

Aberrant: Infinite Earth - Cosmos Nova - Cold Jupiter [Complete]

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They say that in space, no one can hear you scream.

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But that isn’t how it works, because in space? You can’t scream.

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I mean, sure, you can explosively expel any air you happen to be carrying around in your lungs into the deep, cold vacuum all around you – assuming, that is, that your lungs haven’t already ruptured due to the pressure difference – but you aren’t going to be making any sound when you do. And once you expel all your air and fail utterly in your attempt at screaming, you can’t even take another breath and try again. Because, you know, it’s space. There’s nothing to breathe out here.

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I can say this from first-hand experience, because trust me: when your eruption as a nova includes a giant ball of fire falling out of the sky and dropping onto your head, only to find yourself suddenly and mysteriously dropped into orbit around a previously uncharted “cold Jupiter”, spinning through the darkness a full quarter of a light year out from the sun (instead of, say, dead from sudden-meteor overdose, for example) – well, let’s just say that screaming seems like the most appropriate response when it happens, and leave it at that.

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They say the Refugees came from another dimension, right? And that there are potentially an infinite number of other dimensions out there besides theirs and our own, too. Knowing that, I can’t help but wonder at the highly improbable – hell, the astronomically improbable – sequence of events that led to that meteor even entering the earth’s atmosphere in the first place, let alone to it landing right where I’m standing at the time it hits me. (Which, if you’re curious, is on a small fishing boat off the coast of Mexico, thanks for asking.) I can’t help but wonder how many other universes there are out there where I get to finish my vacation in Cabo – and if those other universes don’t outnumber this one by somewhere around “infinity-to-one” – or what the odds are that I’d be the version of me that’s living in this universe instead of in one of those others. And right about here is where the whole multiverse thing starts hurting my brain, causing me to find something else to think about….

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I find out much later that the meteor that sparked my eruption was the source of a major mystery in the days following my own then-presumed death. Afterwards, the scientific community apparently convinced itself, along with the rest of the world, that the meteor (which estimates say was travelling at several dozen times the speed of sound when it hit our atmosphere) exploded in an air-burst when it was only a few hundred meters over the waters of the Bahia San Lucas. Which is why they call it a ‘meteor’ instead of a ‘meteorite’ – it never actually hit the ground. The only thing the scientists can’t explain is why the air burst explosion of a meteor estimated to weigh more than 12,000 metric tons didn’t wipe Cabo San Lucas off the map, because all it did do was break windows for miles around and make a really big noise. Only four people were declared dead in the aftermath (myself among them), though a lot of people were injured by all the flying glass. ‘Where did all that mass and energy go?’ you ask, but they have no answers.

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Personally, I don’t think it went anywhere, I think it became – specifically, I think all that mass and energy became me, but even now I couldn’t tell you what really happened that day. I can only tell you what I remember, which is this:

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There’s a sudden flash, like a second sun just popped into the sky or something, and I look up only to be blinded by a light that’s actually brighter than the sun; I’m feeling my eardrums burst under the relentless pressure of a noise that seems like it’s bigger than the whole world, along with the sensation of my skin being baked off by the heat flash the light brings with it – and then, silence.

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And also coldness. But not just silence as in the absence of sound or coldness as in the Long Night of the Arctic Circle; this silence and this cold do not represent the lack of their opposites – sound and warmth – but the utter impossibility of the existence of those things. Think about it: when you hear a sound, that’s the molecules in the air around you vibrating, and when you get cold it’s because the air around you is cold and it’s sucking away your warmth; in a vacuum, sound and temperature can’t exist. You think you know what real silence is or what true cold feels like? No. You really don’t.

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Anyway, it’s hard to describe.

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Whatever the cause, I suddenly find myself floating helplessly in blackness and struggling with a crippling case of vertigo as I stare thousands upon thousands of kilometers straight down at something so large my mind is having trouble comprehending it. It’s a planet, a gas giant, and it’s literally bigger than I have a frame of reference for; it’s forcing a new frame of reference on me even as I stare at it. Distantly, it occurs to me that until just this moment I’ve never really understood what words like ‘huge’ or ‘enormous’ really meant. Later on, when I realize I have an intuitive sense of dimension and distance, among other things, I measure this planet’s equatorial radius as 76,324.607785km – bigger than Jupiter, though not by much.

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I don’t really have time to think about all this at the time, though, as I realize that I haven’t arrived here alone. The boat I was standing on when the meteor detonated is here with me, along with what looks like a significant portion of the water the boat was floating on. And so are the three friends who were on the boat with me.

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Tom Kerry, Fred McHenry and Sam Harris. Those were their names. Watching deep space kill people is a terrible thing.

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So, I spend a long, long time just floating in space, surrounded by the detritus of that fishing boat I mentioned and a slowly expanding cloud of ice crystals that are what’s become of the several hundred thousand gallons of seawater that came along with us. And the corpses of my friends. They’re in the same orbit as I am, so we all just kind of float along together. It’s space, you know? So unless something bumps into your or something, you just keep following the same path, forever. We do bump into ice crystals a lot, though – all of us, I mean, Tom and Fred and Sam too, not just me or the boat. I keep on moving about – or trying to anyway – so the ice doesn’t really stick to me too much, but the others… after a while I almost can’t tell that they’re…

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Let’s talk about something else, okay?

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Anyway, I float helplessly like that for a real long time. How long? No, I don’t want to talk about that, either. Long enough, I think I might have gone a little crazy for a bit there, let’s just say that. I know I do kind of a lot of flailing about at first, which is stupid because then I can’t stop flailing – again: space. So then I’m stuck spinning around my center of mass like planet Me for several orbits around the gas giant until finally I bump into Sa- …into something else, and I push away quicker than anything because… you know…

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So, that changes my spin a bit, but not much and in any case, I’m still spinning. That goes on for a while; the gas giant (which, I know now, is the not-so-hypothetical-anymore planet Tyche) swings into my field of view for an average of 26.3044 seconds before disappearing behind me again and then I’m staring at open space for more or less the exact same number of seconds until Tyche swings back into view again. This happens over and over and over and over and over and over again, and then it happens all over again, because the record-player’s stuck on repeat.

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Eventually, after I start to get over the whole going insane thing, I begin to notice some other things. Well, really I’ve been noticing them for a long time, but not being in your right mind is more distracting than you might think, so I hadn’t been paying attention. Once I do start paying attention, though, it turns out there’s a whole lot of things I’m noticing.

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For starters, I’m not actually me anymore – I mean, I am still me, of course – I’m just not the same me as I was back on earth. There’s no mirrors or anything out here, but I can still see my body just fine, and it’s not my body anymore. I’m, like, made of diamonds and gold now, or something. That’s what it looks like, anyway: skin made of diamonds the color of amber covering ‘flesh’ that looks as though it’s made of polished gold. I’m as hard as diamonds now, too; my body still moves like it’s made out of flesh and blood, but if I press down on my skin it doesn’t give even a millimeter. It actually looks pretty cool and I might even describe it as beautiful except that, you know, it’s me. I’m not sure how I feel about this development.

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Still, even in my addled state I’m aware that this change in my physiology probably has something to do with me not being dead yet, which is something I can appreciate. And that brings me to another thing that’s different – and also so obvious it’s embarrassing that it’s taken me this long to realize it: I don’t breathe anymore. I haven’t taken a breath since that first, failed attempt at a scream when I first popped into orbit around Tyche, and that was a while ago. Just as obvious, once I think about it, is that I apparently don’t need to eat or drink anymore, because it’s been kind of a while since I was able to do either of those things and I don’t even feel hungry or thirsty, never mind dead of starvation or dehydration. Also, there’s the cold; I can feel the utter lack of heat gnawing at my diamond skin, but now that I’m paying attention I realize it’s not getting any deeper than that, and that underneath my skin I don’t actually feel either cold or hot. So no freezing to death for me, either, it seems.

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I get stuck on the space-isn’t-killing-me thing for a while, but eventually I shift my attention over to all of the other new things vying for it; there’s so many it’s a little overwhelming. It’s at right about this point that I realize that I somehow just know how far away Tyche is from where I’m floating (418,045.04km), as well as how big it is (bigger than Jupiter, as I mentioned earlier). This leads me to the revelation that I ‘just know’ how far away pretty much everything I can see is, and I can see a lot; stars and stars and more stars, along with the moons and rings orbiting Tyche. The moons and rings are all between 100,000 and 1 million kilometers from my own orbit, but the stars are all so far away that the distances are sort of meaningless to me. All except one. Well, no, that’s not quite true. Even this star is so distant that I can’t really comprehend it, but it’s closer to my position than any of the other stars by entire orders of magnitude.

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I realize, too, as I’m looking at all of these different objects and instinctively measuring how far away they are, that not only can I see them all far better than I should be able to, I see them differently. It turns out I’m seeing radiation all up and down most of the EM spectrum, though it takes me a little bit to work that out, and that I can resolve images to a level of detail that far surpasses anything my eyes were capable of before. Also, I have three eyes. You’d think a person would notice something like that a little sooner, but I don’t until I happen to blink with the two I already knew I had but leave the third I didn’t know I had open and can still see everything through it as a result. At this point in the sequence of personal revelations I’m experiencing, I don’t even spend much time dwelling on my newly-discovered third eye, let alone find it alarming.

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It takes me longer to notice than all the new visual sensory input I’m getting, but eventually I realize that I can feel the gas giant I’m orbiting, and at some point after that it occurs to me that I can feel Tyche’s moons as well, even when they’re on the other side of the planet from me. I can’t seem to pick out anything smaller than a moon with this new sense of mine though (at least not yet; later on this sense becomes refined enough for me to pick out even small asteroids only a few kilometers in diameter). ‘Feel’ isn’t really the right word for it what it’s like, either, but I don’t know any words that can really describe it. It’s a little like seeing, only you’re really seeing things, from all sides and in all four dimensions, but other times it’s more like a taste or a smell, except that every taste or smell seems like it’s loaded down with more information than I can easily process. In the end, though, it’s like trying to describe what the vacuum of open space feels like – words are just not up to the job.

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As I’ve already mentioned, I spend a very long time orbiting helplessly around Tyche, because for a very long time there’s really not much I can do to change that. Space will really screw you over like that; unless you’ve got something to push against or a gravity field to pull on you, you’re stuck. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that my orbit around Tyche isn’t a stable one; me, my friends, that stupid boat I was standing on when all this started, we’re all stuck in a slowly decaying orbit that’s taking us deeper and deeper into the planet’s powerful gravity well with each revolution.

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The rate of decay is slow, so I don’t really pay it much mind at first, but like I said: I spend way too long spinning around that cold Jupiter. After a while I can’t help but develop a sense of urgency about this situation. Another thing I haven’t mentioned yet is that astronomy has been a hobby of mine for years – since my early teens, in fact – so I have a pretty good idea of how this whole ‘decaying orbit’ thing ends, and between my knowledge as an amateur astronomer and my new nova senses I’ve got a pretty good idea of what it’s like down there underneath Tyche’s cloud layers as well. Whatever my eruption into a nova has done to me, I’m obviously tough enough now to survive in deep space indefinitely and with no trouble at all – which makes me pretty tough – but even so, I don’t rate my chances of surviving the pressures and temperatures waiting for me underneath those clouds very highly.

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As Tyche starts to take up more and more of my sky I become more desperate in direct proportion and start trying things I would never normally consider. Prayer, for one thing. I say a lot of prayers and make overtures of fealty and devotion to more than one deity, though I’m dubious about whether any of this helps.

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Another thing I try is simply willing myself back to earth. Hey, I somehow managed to teleport myself way out here into deep space, right? Who’s to say I can’t use the same trick to get back to earth? But I’m pretty sure the only reason that worked was because I somehow used the mass of the meteor about to hit me as fuel for the jump out here, and I don’t have another dozen kilotons of meteor to work with at the moment, nor am I sure I’d know what to do with it if I did, so, unsurprisingly, nothing happens.

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Eventually I just settle on trying to fly, which actually seems like a pretty reasonable plan once I decide to go with it. I am a nova, after all, and everyone knows novas can fly. Some of them, at least. I decide I have to be one of them, and try not to feel too much like the little engine that could as I attempt to propel myself out of a pretty big gravity well on belief alone. At first I do this by ‘feeling’ for Tyche using that extra sense I mentioned earlier and then trying to ‘push’ against it. Basically, I try using anti-gravity, which is really stupid of me because there’s no such thing. Any idiot knows that. Fortunately I manage to pull my head out of my ass after a while of this futility and realize I should maybe try something that’s at least physically possible. So I try using plain old gravity instead.

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This is not quite as ridiculous of a plan as it probably sounds. I’ve already determined beyond any shadow of a doubt by this point that I can detect the gravity fields of planetary bodies, and assuming that I really did manage to teleport myself out here somehow (and ignoring completely that this probably means I’m at fault for the deaths of Tom, Sam and Fred, because I am nowhere near ready to cope with that kind of guilt under my current circumstances) there are only so many plausible ways that could’ve happened, and they all involve lots of gravitational forces. All of which means there’s a pretty good chance I can do stuff with gravity. So I give it a shot.

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I choose a spot – the surface of the nearest moon, actually – and I start trying to pull myself there using the tenuous thread of gravity I can feel connecting me to it. To my surprise and joy this actually works. At first, though, all that happens is that my orbital trajectory around Tyche increases by a fraction so small it’s barely worth mentioning. (The only reason I’m even aware of the increase in speed, miniscule as it is, is because of my new and intuitive grasp of distances and the relative speeds of objects that can be calculated based off of that.) Still, even a slightly increased orbital velocity is enough to slow down the rate of my orbit’s decay.

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After several orbits worth of painfully slow acceleration I see that my friends, and the fishing boat we’d rented, have all dropped significantly behind me and are several hundred kilometers closer to Tyche’s surface than I am as well. This causes a pang of anxiety in me that I’m really not prepared for as I realize that this distance is only going to get larger as they continue to descend and that eventually my friends will fall into Tyche’s atmosphere. The anxiety passes, however, as I struggle to accept that there’s really nothing I can do about this, considering my circumstances. So I keep on pulling on that thread of gravity.

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After several more orbits I manage to accelerate enough to stop the decay, and with a sense of incredibly profound relief I discover that my life is no longer in immediate peril. By this point I’ve become much better at this ‘flying’ stuff and my rate of acceleration has been steadily increasing for a while. It isn’t long before my orbit not only isn’t decaying anymore but is actually increasing in elevation, the moon I’ve been aiming for getting slowly but steadily closer all the time.

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Time passes, and soon the moon that is my objective is very close indeed. And it’s at this point I realize my mistake, but it’s far too late by this time. I’ve been so focused on reaching this moon that I’ve done nothing but accelerate towards it and that’s a problem because – once again – space. In space an object in motion (that’s me in this example) remains in motion until acted upon by an outside force (which, because I haven’t been decelerating like I should have been, is about to be the surface of a pretty big moon).

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My folly becomes apparent to me 1 hour, 7 minutes and 18 seconds before I reach my objective, leaving me with a full four thousand and thirty-eight seconds to experience a shockingly broad range and intensity of emotions that last right up until I plow into the moon’s surface at a speed of exactly 7.209 kilometers per second.

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Body-slamming a moon at about one-tenth of a mile over 16,126 miles per hour isn’t something I recommend trying.

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Unsurprisingly, the impact knocks me unconscious. Very surprisingly, however, it doesn’t kill me. I have no idea how long I’m out for, but when I finally come to I can tell immediately that while I might still be alive, I’m pretty banged up. Well, no, actually I'm really banged up and can barely move, but I'm so happy to still be alive I try not to dwell on that too much. It also feels like most of the moon is piled up on top of me, and given that I can’t see anything and I can barely move, I figure the speed and force when I impacted must’ve left me buried down inside it. How far down I don’t know yet, but I’m too busy being injured to care just then.

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My injuries are strange, too. I can tell they’re bad, but I wouldn’t say they ‘hurt’, exactly, it's just that somehow they don’t feel ‘right’ either. Or at least, they don’t feel normal. Instead of any familiar sensations, like the grinding of broken bones or the stiffness of swollen or torn soft tissues, all of the feedback I’m getting is alien and unfamiliar. It almost feels like I’ve got fault lines or something, and considering what little I know about my new body that may actually be the case….

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A little more than two million, one hundred eighty-eight thousand, seven hundred and ninety-seven seconds pass from the time I first return to consciousness until I’m finally well enough to make any real progress in extracting myself from the hole my own stupidity has quite literally dug for me. That’s almost 608 hours, or about eight hours more than twenty-five days.

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This is also known as a Very Long Time, especially considering I can’t really see anything, or even move around much. Fortunately I lapse in and out of consciousness more than once during this time, though after the first time I always somehow know exactly how much time has passed since the last time I lost consciousness. Another thing that’s kind of nice is that I can sort-of, kind-of hear down here under the moon’s surface, what with the dirt packed in so close around me. After enduring months on end of the absolute silence of outer space, this isn’t so bad, I figure. Not that it’s good either, but it may be that I’m still riding a euphoric high from my success in finally escaping my orbital prison and it’s making me overly optimistic. Also, at this relatively early point in my life as a nova, I’m still pretty deep into that “nothing in the universe can stop me” phase that some of us go through – and considering I got here by flying a few hundred thousand kilometers under my own power and surviving an impact with a moon while moving at about Mach 22, it’s difficult to see why I shouldn’t feel that way at the moment.

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Anyway, I deal with my time spent buried in a moon orbiting a frozen gas giant a quarter of a light year out from our sun a whole better than I initially dealt with being trapped in a decaying orbit around that same gas giant. Go figure.

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Eventually, though, this strange shell I now call my body stops feeling like an egg in danger of cracking open and I begin to test it against the small mountain (or so it feels like) of moon-rocks piled up on top of me. I have no idea how much material is actually pressing down on me, because the moon I’d hit, though large, had a gravity that was at best only a fraction of earth’s. So, probably a lot. I’ve had a feeling for a while now that this body’s pretty strong, but I had nothing to test this theory against while drifting in orbit around Tyche; now it’s a tremendous test of strength just to shift my weight an inch.

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For a long while I get no further in my attempts at extricating myself than I had back when I’d first woken up and was still badly injured. Apparently the sheer speed of my impact resulted in a lot of heat or something, because as far as I can tell the rock above me is more or less fused solid, and it really doesn’t want to budge. I realize pretty quickly, though, that this shell of mine, this body, can be pushed really hard, because when I try to push on all the stuff burying me and it doesn’t budge I try pushing harder. This gets me nowhere, so I push even harder, and then harder still. I realize at this point that my arms aren’t even feeling fatigued yet, let alone on the verge of failing or hurting themselves, so I just start piling on the pressure, pushing harder and harder and harder, until finally I feel the dirt and rocks above me begin to shift.

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Seriously, how do novas ever manage to keep themselves grounded as people when we’ve got access to this kind of power? I should be dead so many times over by this point in the narrative that the karmic offset is probably driving some endangered species to extinction back on earth, and meanwhile here I am, still alive, and using my bare hands to lift not just one or two, or dozens, or even hundreds, but thousands of metric tons of mass off of me. Experiencing this happen, and being the one accomplishing it, is both exhilarating and terrifying; exhilarating because it’s the kind of thing that really does make you feel like you have no limits, and terrifying because you can’t help but wonder what something like this says about what you are. Emphasis on the ‘what’….

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Of course, then reality catches up with me, and all the rocks and dirt surrounding the stuff I’ve been pushing up on collapses into the tiny little open space I’ve just created, burying me all over again. So much for nothing in the universe being able to get in my way. It isn’t a total loss though, because now I’m in a more or less upright position and there’s enough loose material around my legs and arms for me to get some real leverage once I’m ready to try this again. It’ll be a while before then, though, because now that I’ve stopped I can tell that lifting so much weight actually did take a bit out of me – a lot out of me, actually. I feel like I might have one more good push in me at the moment, but after that I’m pretty sure I’ll be tapped out. So, trying not to feel too frustrated at this unexpected and uncomfortable turn of events, I settle in to wait for my energy levels to return and decide to use the time practicing the meditation techniques I’ve been teaching myself while trapped down here. (Honestly, it’s more like I’ve been learning how to zone out with a professional level of skill, because I don’t know the first thing about any real meditation techniques.)

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Seven thousand, two hundred and thirty-three seconds later I will myself back to full consciousness and confirm that I’m feeling about as good as I’m ever likely to, given the circumstances, and I decide to have another go at it. This time, instead of gradually ramping up the force, I gather it all up inside of me, coiling the power up like a spring at the core of my person, and then I let it all loose at once and push. The results are suitably dramatic.

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The roof over my cramped lunar accommodations cracks and gives way so quickly my feet leave the ground as I continue to push upwards from underneath. Rocks, chunks of dirt and clouds of fine grit all start collapsing into the space I’ve just made, but I let it slide by me and fill in the hole underneath my floating form. Meanwhile, the ceiling above me is still rising, but not as quickly, and I feel myself having to push harder for less effect. I can feel that I won’t be able to keep this up for much longer. Now that I’ve gotten this far, though, I really don’t want to stop until I can see the sky again, so I rear back and then lunge at the rocks above me, smashing into them with my shoulder with as much force as I can muster.

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That really gets things moving, and for an instant I’m not even pushing on anything anymore, the rocks above me go flying upwards so quickly. But what goes up must come down, and though my little stunt loosened things up enough for me to gain another several meters in height, now all that loose dirt and those rocks come tumbling back down onto me, threatening to leave me buried and immobile yet again. Because I still can’t really see much of anything, I’m not even aware of the problem until it’s almost too late, so my reaction is one of almost pure instinct with little or no place for conscious thought in the matter. Once I again I unleash the titanian strength within me and push – but this time I do it without my arms or my legs – I just push. I push everything, in every direction, all at once and equally and then I launch myself upwards with renewed force, slamming into the crumbling rocks overhead with enough force to pulverize the first few cubic meters of it and turn everything after that into fine grit.

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And then I’m out, floating free in the middle of a fairly impressive crater in the moon’s airless surface, with a sky full of stars overhead and Tyche’s enormous bulk sitting low on the horizon to my left.

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After breaking free of that moon I find that my surroundings – my circumstances – no longer scare me. I still respect the dangers and the phenomenally powerful forces that Tyche and the airless void surrounding it represent, but I no longer fear them. It’s fair to say I’m even becoming acclimated to the sidereal environment around Tyche. Considering my recent return from parts un-sane, and the bouts of hubristic thinking spurred on by revelations of my own nova powers and apparent unkillability, I decide it’s probably not in my best interest to devote too much thought to the fact that I am, in the strictest technical sense, now a celestial being.

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For a while I circle Tyche, partially because it’s a good way to practice flying and to hone my senses by observing all parts of my environment, but really because I want to find the bodies of my friends, hoping I can swoop down and catch them before they fall into Tyche’s atmosphere. The effort is doomed to failure, though. Tyche’s surface area is measured in billions of kilometers, and even if I only focus on the equatorial region around which we were all orbiting (which I do), I’ve still got hundreds of millions of kilometers of surface area to go over. Meanwhile, Tom, Fred and Sam have been dead for a little over three years at this point and were all encased in half-meter thick shells of ice last I saw them, so it’s not like they stand out against the background. (Yes, I know I said I didn’t want to talk about how long I was stuck floating out there, and I still don’t, but well… there it is.)

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I wind up spending most of my time trying to spot our rented fishing boat, since it’s much larger than all three of my friends combined, but I never see a hint of it either. In the end, I spend one hundred twenty-four thousand and fifty-one seconds less time searching for my friends than I spent buried under that moon (which is still two million, sixty-four thousand, seven hundred and forty-seven seconds, or about six minutes shy of 24 days), before finally giving up the search and admitting defeat. I try to console myself with the thought that a previously undiscovered gas giant not much smaller than Jupiter makes for a much more impressive burial place than most people ever get, but small comfort is all this is good for, at least in my case.

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My plan to improve my ability to travel through space under my own power, however, and to hone my senses, is a rousing success. In fact, about half-way through my search for my friends, a mini-epiphany causes me to realize that either I’d been less mentally disturbed than I’d thought, or significantly more so, as it becomes apparent to me that I really had been hearing all those voices in my head back before I’d crashed into a moon. I’ve been picking up broadcasts from earth for years now, but until recently it’d all been a jumbled mess of shouting and singing and announcing and preaching – most of it in languages I couldn’t understand. (It had occurred to me to wonder at the time why they’d all gone quiet during my time buried under that moon.)

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Once I give up on the search for Tom and the others I devote my full attention to this new awareness that has forced itself upon me and that has, frankly, been distracting me terribly ever since. It takes me a while to learn how to parse out individual signals, as well as to hone in on the source of those signals (yes, I already know they’re coming from earth, I just don’t yet know where earth is yet), but eventually I find what I’m looking for. I mentioned a while back that there was one star that was much closer to me than any of the others, and I’d suspected for a while that this was the sun, so I naturally focus my search there since I know earth – if that really is the sun – orbits relatively close to it. In the end it takes me thirteen million, forty-five thousand and seventy-two seconds of nearly constant and uninterrupted listening and squinting before I finally make out the tiny blue star that is, in fact, the earth. Planet Earth. My home. The joy of finally discovering it is marred only by my complete inability to shed tears of happiness or even to cry out in pleasure, and is otherwise entirely complete.

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It takes me only thirty-six hundred and forty-five seconds (to my surprise and delight) to calculate the path I’ll want to take to reach the planet of my birth. I’m less pleased with the amount of time it’s going to take (an estimated 7.0186 x 107 seconds), but I have hope that with practice and effort I’ll be able to increase my rate of acceleration and cut my time in transit down considerably. Time will tell.

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The length of the journey ahead of me causes me to hesitate, but only for 2.3 seconds – if the death of my friends hadn’t turned Tyche into a gravesite that I wanted very badly to leave behind me things might’ve been different. I might not have been so willing to abandon the relative safety of its gravity well and magnetic field. But as it is I’m all too ready to risk travel across a void more than two trillion, two hundred forty-three billion, nine hundred and sixty-eight million kilometers across, even though I have no guarantee that I will succeed in crossing that distance, and even though it will likely take me years to cross even if I do succeed.

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On a whim, I stop off at the crater left behind by my crash landing on Tyche’s moon. I float down into what’s left of the hole I created during my escape from its embrace and pick up the first rock that catches my eye once I reach its bottom. Clutching it in my hand I float back up out of the hole, out of the impact crater, and away from the moon and huge Tyche behind it, and I begin my journey back to earth.

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